The 2017 MLB draft is complete. The Padres selected 40 players overall, and the next challenge is to sign them into the organization. Most will, some won’t, and it’ll be weeks until all of that shakes out. In the meantime, I thought I’d take a look at the types of players drafted, simply by breaking them out by the numbers. With the hugely successful 2016 draft plus the incredible haul from the 2016-2017 international signing period, this system is bound to be bottom-loaded for years to come. They’re building this organization for sustained success rather than aiming for a specific window. The Royals are watching their bubble burst, while the Padres want to see prolonged success like the Cardinals and Giants have been able to maintain. With that in mind, here are a couple of breakdowns of the players the Padres selected:
A.J. Preller and scouting director Mark Conner seem to heavily favor high-ceiling kids with loud tools at premium positions. That means pitchers, catchers, shortstops, and centerfielders, because that’s where the most athletically and mentally gifted kids tend to play. The organization signed a ton of kids “up the middle” in the international signing bonanza, and it seems evident that Preller favors the athleticism and creativity of Latin players when it comes to shortstops. With the state of pitcher development across the country today, we’re seeing more arms with dazzling stuff than ever before, and the theories on how to maintain those arms should be proven with this generation of pitchers. The Padres took a whole lot of arms this year, using half of their draft selections on pitchers. Perhaps they saw more talented pitchers than position players, perhaps they’re preparing for the inevitable attrition of young arms, because afterall, TINSTAAPP.
It’s natural to take a look up and down the current rosters in the organization and try to see where this mass of kids will fit and how they’ll cover current needs. DON’T DO THAT. Most teams draft based on talent and future value alone, and the Padres draft team may be the most extreme case of this. I only saw one trend that matched up with any organizational need, and outside of that, they were looking for the best available talent with the highest projectable ceiling they could find, and character plays a significant part in their selections. With that in mind, here are the quantities of players selected at each position:
- 12 Right-handed Pitchers: Righties are more common than lefties both on sandlots and in professional baseball.
- 8 Left-handed Pitchers: Six were selected in the first 16 rounds, including first round selection MacKenzie Gore. Six righties were also selected in the first 16 rounds.
- 7 Centerfielders: Often the best athletes on the field are centerfielders, and it’s likely that most of these kids will move off the position as they develop. Four of the seven are lefthanded hitters, and one is a switch hitter.
- 5 Catchers: There was a focus on defense-first backstops, and there’s a relative dearth of them in the current system behind Hedges & Torrens. The young arms in the lower minors will need some quality backstops to work with for proper development, and now we should have that covered.
- 3 First Basemen: Kids drafted as first basemen are often big left-handed sluggers. That’s not the case by the numbers this year, as none of these kids are taller than 6’2” and they all field right-handed. One hits lefty, the other two are righties.
- 2 Shortstops: Kinda surprising that only two players were selected at this premium position, but Preller signed a bunch of kids up the middle in the international amateur market the last two years.
- 2 Third Basemen: Like the first basemen, kids drafted as 3B tend to have more of a power profile, but again the kids taken here are both 6’0” and don’t have the size of a typical slugger. Both kids are athletic fielders who have seen time at shortstop.
- 1 Leftfielder: Again, kids drafted as corner outfielders are typically big sluggers, but Tyler Benson is a 5’11”, 180lb, 21yo who seems like an athletic, well-rounded player.
- 0 Second basemen and Righfielders. Again, kids drafted as shortstops often become second basemen, and corner infielders often wind up in corner outfield spots.
This facet of the draft game speaks to signability, projectability, and coachability. High school kids are the most unknown because their bodies are still growing, but they’ve only received so much coaching so they’re seen as more “malleable” to an organization’s player development. College kids have a more established track record both on the field and in personal maturity, but what flaws are present in their mechanics or their approach may be tougher to un-learn.
Many analysts were expecting the Padres to favor college players in this year’s draft, to create a swell of talent that would be predicted to bloom in a small window of success. The spread of high school and college talent suggests that the goal is to plant the farm with crops that yield prolonged success. Combine the 16- to 20-year-olds acquired in the international group, and the swell of talent should represent a tsunami more than a shore break - a steady flow of increasing talent levels that should bring the organization up with it, rather than a short spike of success that just ebbs back into the sea.
- 15 out of High School: Most if not all of these kids have some kind of commitment to a college program and will require some spending to coerce them to break that commitment to join the organization, and sometimes that decision has something to do with the team that drafted them. You might even see some of these kids pop up again in an upcoming draft.
- 10 college juniors: Some of these kids might want to come back for their senior year, but most of them are ready to reap the rewards they’ve sewn through their college careers.
- 9(+1) college seniors, including one fifth-year senior: There is only independent organized baseball left for them if they don’t sign with the Padres, so many of these kids may sign for a bargain deal just to keep chasing the dream.
- 5 out of junior college: Typically JuCo kids wound up there because their academics didn’t allow them admittance into a college or their profile wasn’t enough to make a college team so they found a JuCo program that helped them come up. These guys are usually eager to sign, as pro ball was their dream all along.
Where do they all go?
We’ll see some of these kids make their professional debuts this summer in the Arizona Summer League, a short-season rookie league that starts later in the season. Others will see their first action in the Arizona Fall League, and some might even go overseas to play in the Winter Leagues in Latin America and Australia. There’s also a program within MLB that allows a team to sign a player and cover another season in college, but that seems to be used less and less. In reality, it will be nearly a year before most of the kids signed in this year’s draft start to show up in the professional ranks.
To the point above, there’s plenty of time to make organizational moves which will create playing opportunities for these kids. Minor league players will leave to free agency, international signees will drop off as their development is monitored in the various academies, and this year’s promising players will be promoted, plus there’s the inevitable injuries that create voids for kids waiting for their chance. A.J. Preller has stated that there is no set timetable for a player’s progression through the minors, and they’ve been aggressive in promoting kids like Luis Urias who demonstrate a relative mastery of a particular level.
Aggressiveness and Patience
With the quantity of talent they’re acquiring, the player development staff can be aggressive with those who show the ability and the desire, while maintaining patience with those who need a little more development. Two cases of this are evident on the major league roster right now: Franchy Cordero and Jose Pirela. Both have moved off their respective positions where they played when the team acquired them, and both are experiencing break-out success with the team, although it remains to be seen how sustainable it may be. Cordero rose like a phoenix after being moved to centerfield, and his quick progression has been rewarded with the opportunity to advance ahead of schedule. Pirela has struggled at times, but he’s finally showing the results of all the hard work, and the organization is being repaid for the patience they’ve taken in him. We should expect to see a similar level of aggressiveness and patience with these kids as the organization spends the next six years cultivating the seeds sown in this year’s draft.